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17 Nov 2008 : Column 919

House of Lords

Monday, 17 November 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.

Privacy: Mobile Telephone and Internet Records

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, we have announced that we will consult in the new year on how to maintain the ability of police and intelligence agencies to protect the public using communications data in the face of the challenge of changing technology. This consultation will deal with striking the right balance between privacy and security. Any proposals that the Government bring forward will be fully compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, given his Answer, does the Minister think that the public have any perception at the moment of what a huge step this is between being a person with a right to privacy and effectively being treated as a suspect? With 3 billion e-mails—that is, 35,000 every second—18 million internet connections and 57 billion text messages a year, does he think that this is really likely to prove the most effective way of fighting terrorism, given that the estimated cost will be up to £12 billion? Does he think that such a step of invading our privacy is a step too far?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness misses exactly what is being done here. Communications data are the data of when someone uses their phone, whom they phone, the number that they phone and, probably, where they are. This is all stuff that all the companies keep. It is there today. It is actually sitting there on all their files on every one of us. Whenever we use a mobile phone, the data are there, and this has helped us on a number of occasions. In fact, it has helped on more than a number of occasions; 95 per cent of serious crime cases use these sorts of data to help to pin people down. In the murder of Holly Wells, for example, exactly such data enabled us to get hold of the person involved. They helped to get the murderer of Amelie Delagrange, and the Suffolk strangler. All these things come about because these data are held and we have access to them. We are not proposing that data that have never been collected are held; the question is how in the future, with all the changes that are coming, we can still have access to something that we regularly use today for serious crime and for counterterrorism.

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Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, can my noble friend give us any indication of how quickly the evidence in the murder trials that he has described, and in other serious crimes, would disappear because of the move towards voice over internet protocol and the fact that these data will no longer be routinely kept unless the Government act on this matter? How quickly will we lose the capacity to have people convicted of these sorts of serious crime?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. The changes are being made because we are ahead of probably everywhere in the world in terms of moving to these new protocols. Organisations such as BT are doing this because it will save them a huge amount of money. They will be charging and transferring data on a totally different system. Exactly how quickly that will come in is difficult to predict, but it will be complete by about 2011-12. That is the sort of timescale we are looking at. There will be a progressive degradation if no one keeps these data. The whole point of our consultation is to look at the options. We have made no decisions as yet on which way to go and we are aware of all the complexities. But it would be a terrible mistake to lose all these data that we have had the use of for years and not be able to prosecute some very nasty and unpleasant people.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister says that this strikes a proper balance between privacy and the protection of the public. Does he not see a major difference between looking at individual accesses with a view to the detection of particular crimes, as he has described, and the collection of a record of every telephone conversation, every internet access and every text message made by you and me across the board, to be kept in a government-held database for ever? Will the Minister please provide a copy of the PowerPoint presentation given two weeks ago to ISPs describing this proposal in greater detail, since he appears not to want to tell your Lordships about it?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not think that it is fair to say that I do not want to tell your Lordships about it. I am very happy to do more in terms of presenting what the problems are. Part of our consultation is exactly that; namely, pointing out the emerging problem, the difficulty, the data that we are beginning to lose, the capability gaps we want to address, how we should move forward and the possible solutions. I am sure all noble Lords would agree that it would be a terrible mistake for us to lose these data which are used with regard to 95 per cent of crimes and help to pin down some very unpleasant people. They are already there. Clearly, we have to look after data. We have to look after exactly what is collected and how it is held. Should it be held in a central database? How will it be done? That is all part of the consultation.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, in addition to the database proposed for mobile phones and internet records, since 1997, how many databases have been established to hold information on citizens of this country, of which they are unaware?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, perhaps I may get back to the noble Lord in writing because I do not know the answer to that question.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will the Minister make clear whether the data which it is proposed should be held relate solely to the fact of a call having been made or to the content of the call which was made?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very good point. I did not make that clear enough, although I tried. Communications data are not about the content. They are purely to do with the billing information, which is crucial when someone is lying about when or where they have used their phone. They enable the police to pin people down when they say, “I was never in this region. I never did this” and we know jolly well that they did. More information is needed, but this does not apply to the content. The content is covered by intercept, which is and always will be dealt with in a very different way.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, the Minister is right. Does he agree that, if data are admissible currently in criminal cases, the matter will to some extent be resolved when the intercept itself is admissible to convict criminals?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord knows very well that we are pursuing the Chilcot recommendations. We are trying very hard. We would like to go ahead with that and ensure that we can use intercept as evidence, but we have to be absolutely sure that we protect our ability to gain certain types of data. Those are the tests as recognised by Chilcot. We are moving through a sequence of checking these out. If we cannot protect that, having used the abilities we have had for 43 years in war and peace, to give those abilities away to people who would cause damage to us would be a terrible mistake. I hope that we will be able to do it, but we have to be absolutely certain. We cannot lose that ability which gives us an edge on people who would do harm to us.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a safeguard has to be worked out that the information should be available only for the solution of serious crime, not to government for any other reason?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very good point. We need to think carefully about how some of this information is used, and, indeed, how legislation is sometimes used. There is an issue of local councils using legislation incorrectly, and we have now given them guidance to stop that happening. It is true that we need to look carefully at how it is used. To lose something that we are used to using for serious crime and terrorism, which has been crucial, would be a very silly mistake, and we should not do it.

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Energy: Wind Farms

2.46 pm

Lord James of Blackheath asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the UK is fully committed to meeting its share of the EU 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020. The Government have committed to a comprehensive package of reforms to provide a stable regulatory environment for investors. Despite the current economic climate, the UK remains a good place to invest in renewables, and we have seen four significant acquisitions in the UK offshore wind market in the last month alone.

Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, I apologise for not having declared my interest as a member of the renewable energy committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Freeman.

I thank the Minister for his Answer but he has not answered the Question about Shell. Perhaps I can help him by saying that the original announcement on behalf of Shell that it had withdrawn was countermanded later the same day by a statement that was very ambiguous. It said not that it was withdrawing, but that it had not yet completed negotiations for the sale of arrays in this country that would have meant it had withdrawn. It also said that it was dissatisfied by its array in Blackpool lying in the flight path of the airport. Have the Government done anything to address that problem on its behalf? A similar set of complaints arises from BP, which even more unfortunately withdrew a few days later—a far bigger calamity—because it does not have the same fiscal advantages here as in the USA. Will the Minister tell us more about that whole concept?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I think not. These are commercial decisions of the companies concerned. I understand that, in the statements, Shell acknowledged the support that the Government had given in taking the project so far. The Government are concerned about ensuring that such projects go ahead, so far as possible, which is why we have welcomed other companies that have come in to take up those possibilities.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the shortage of turbine manufacturing facilities in the United Kingdom? Will he join the British Wind Energy Association in trying to convince Vestas and Siemens that they should build plants in the United Kingdom?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend will know that a particularly critical decision has to be made by Siemens shortly. I very much echo

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his remarks. There is a shortage of manufacturing capacity in the world. We think that the UK can provide an effective and excellent manufacturing base, and—

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: We will do everything that we can to encourage companies to invest in the UK, my Lords.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, is not one of the main reasons that renewables will be successful is that it is economic to have them? There is a commercial case, as the Minister says. When we have Brent crude at just above $50 a barrel, whereas in the summer it was three times that, is there not a real risk that investors will look outside the renewables area? Have the Government a target price for oil? How do they expect to achieve it?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords. The noble Lord would not expect me to respond in any other way. Of course, he is right that prices go up and down; they have an impact on investment. The Government are strongly committed to the target. Renewables have a huge role to play in this country in terms of both generating capacity and jobs. We are confident that the incentives that we put in place will enable us to meet those targets.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I apologise for getting up too early, before the Minister had sat down; that was rude of me. Now that we know that BP, like Shell, is pulling out of investing in wind farms in the United Kingdom and investing in the United States of America instead—which, as the Minister says, it is quite free to do—does he agree that if the UK is to keep the lights on and tackle carbon emissions, the Government must ensure a stable investment climate?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree that a stable investment climate is essential. We believe that we can provide it in this country, together with the skills and technology that go with it. It is worth pointing out that at the same time as those decisions by Shell and BP, other companies have come into the UK because they see it as providing the kind of conditions she has called for.

Lord Broers: My Lords, Shell and BP are engineering companies. The fact that they have pulled out may mean that they know something, maybe that offshore wind is the most expensive and impractical of all the large-scale renewable energy possibilities. The new commitment we have made of 25 gigawatts by 2020 means, in effect, installing 10 huge generators every day. There are only 60 days in the North Sea when the weather makes that possible, and we have only one barge that can put up these wind generators. Would it not be better if the Government looked to some other renewable sources of energy and ceased to place so much emphasis on offshore wind?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, of course the Government do not see offshore wind as the sole provider of renewable energy. We provide support and encouragement in many different sectors of renewables. However, we should not ignore the potential capacity that offshore wind can provide. The third competitive round of bids for development rights to build offshore is under way. I understand the question of barges, and the Government are working with industry on that, but we have just overtaken Denmark as the world leader in offshore; surely it is good to invest in that area.

India: Orissa

2.50 pm

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): The United Kingdom unequivocally condemns the recent violent attacks against Christians that have led to deaths, injuries and widespread displacements in Orissa. We have expressed our concerns to the appropriate Indian authorities in Delhi and London. The UK will continue to urge the Government of India to uphold the right to freedom of religion. Our High Commission in Delhi, along with European and other partners, continues to monitor the situation in Orissa.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that supportive and encouraging reply. Is he aware that, since the violence, 50,000 people have had to flee to camps? I visited those camps recently and witnessed appalling conditions of overcrowding with a lack of medical care, food and adequate sanitation. The people there told us that they dare not go back to their homes because those who perpetrated the violence have still not been apprehended. Will Her Majesty’s Government urge the Government of India, a country which is widely respected as a democratic nation and a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to put pressure on the Government of the state of Orissa to ensure that the security of all their citizens is adequate to enable them to return to their homes as soon as possible?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness. She and others who recently visited Orissa have prepared the report of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, and anyone who has read it will know how moving and depressing the story is. As I said, we have expressed our concerns about this. Our High Commission in Delhi continues to make representations to the central Indian Government on this matter and will continue to press them to resolve the situation. The noble Baroness will know that an EU delegation is visiting that state in early December to see for itself the extent of the problems, and a UK representative

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will be part of that delegation. We hope that the next EU-India human rights dialogue will be held before the end of the year, and of course Orissa will be on the agenda.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, a militant Hindu nationalist movement, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, is said to have incited much of the violence and intimidation in Orissa. The VHP is a registered charity with branches in several parts of this country, and the UK branch has made a number of inflammatory statements. Will my noble friend consider referring the VHP UK to the Charities Commission to examine its status?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the UK Government do not consider the VHP to be a terrorist organisation under our law. The organisation is proscribed neither here nor in India, nor do the Indian Government classify it as a terrorist organisation. Obviously, decisions on proscription must be proportionate and based on evidence that a group is involved in terrorism as defined in the Terrorism Act 2000. I am sorry that I must disappoint my noble friend on this occasion.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, although India has experienced enormous economic growth over the past few years, this has clearly not reached every community. Does the Minister think that this is a factor in the violence in Orissa? Following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, will there at least be election monitors in Orissa in the run-up to the elections next year?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. She will know that Orissa is one of the poorest states in what is of course already a poor country. Of Orissa’s 40 million population, 45 per cent are below the Indian poverty line. It would be hard to think that poverty had nothing to do with the shocking events of both last December and more recently. I hope that there will be monitors for the Orissa state elections when they take place.

Lord Bates: My Lords, is not a major contribution to the violence in Orissa the introduction of anti-conversion laws which require that anyone considering conversion gives 30 days’ notice to the appropriate authorities and seeks police clearance before doing so? Does the Minister agree that such legislation should have no place on the statute books of the largest democracy in the world?

Lord Bach: My Lords, anti-conversion laws are ultimately an internal matter for the Indian authorities. The noble Lord will know that they came in under the Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, and Orissa was the first state in India to enact it, although it was not implemented for 22 years. It bars conversion by means of inducement, allurement or the use of force. It is considered by many to be at the root of some of what has recently happened in Orissa, but this is a matter for the Indian Government. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, India is at heart a great democratic country. We should be very proud of it.

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